I’m not sure if “rarest” is a term most species want to be, because it just seems like a nice way of saying “endangered beyond belief”. That’s exactly what the Dodonidia helmsii (otherwise known as the Forest Ringlet butterfly) is, as it’s on the ‘severe decline’ species list.
Last year the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust attempted a givealittle page to save the New Zealand native.
“The Forest Ringlet butterfly is a rare and distinctive butterfly that is only found in New Zealand. Unfortunately, over the past 20 years, it has rapidly declined in numbers to a critical level that may well result in extinction. Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust has decided that something needs to be done about this. We have found an expert who will travel to New Zealand to carry out research to help save this disappearing species.”
The expert they mention is Steve Wheatley, a senior conservation specialist from Butterfly Conservation in England. The givealittlepage didn’t quite meet its goal but a funding grant from Lottery Environment and Heritage kept things rolling.
The butterfly was once widespread throughout the country but has seen rapid decline and disappearance in the Auckland and Wellington Region.
“But no-one mentioned Little Barrier,” said Jacqui Knight, Community Liaison for the MBNZT. “I was at a meeting of the Auckland Zoological Society and a woman there mentioned she’d seen five in one day’s tramp – and showed me a photograph she took of the beautiful butterfly.”
Unfortunately the cause of the Forest Ringlet butterfly’s decline is unknown, and so it can’t be addressed to bring the numbers of the native back up.
Eric Edwards, science advisor for the Department of Conservation believes that the islands disconnect, rodent-free status, and low numbers of wasps may be the factor that’s saving the Forest Ringlet.
“This is an important find,” Edwards said, “possibly the most significant event for Little Barrier Island in five years.”